February Update

Four years ago, the State of New Jersey had just completed a new Energy Master Plan, and they were gearing up for big investments in green energy. Given Isles’ mission, we wanted to assure that some of the new jobs in this field went to underemployed folks who needed them the most. After years of running Isles YouthBuild Institute serving young people wanting high school diplomas and job training, we created the Center for Energy and Environmental Training (CEET). CEET could also train and help place adults that already had high school diplomas. 
The result: CEET has impacted the environment, increased jobs and incomes, and saved money for families living in drafty old homes. This is a great example of how a good idea can be turned into an entrepreneurial startup that innovates and impacts thousands of others.  CEET’s success can be attributed to good people working hard, asking the right questions, and engaging other funders, friends, and supporters who care about the same things. CEET could not have succeeded without readers and donors like you. 
I hope you enjoy this newsletter. CEET and other elements of our work should be replicated in settings throughout the country. As we finish our work on our new Strategic Plan for the next four years, we will expand our ability to make that replication both possible and likely. We couldn’t do it without you. 
In Community,


January Update

As we welcome 2013, I am optimistic. This is despite the unpredictability of Washington, the economy’s slow growth, and other challenges. This optimism is partly based on a strong 2012, when learning and development here at Isles helped us set an exciting foundation for 2013. 
This month, we highlight the challenges and opportunities for energy work at Isles. It is winter, and way too many older homes are heating the sidewalks and the outdoors. Thousands of low-income homes are costly, polluting energy hogs. So what can we do about it? At Isles, we train local residents to perform energy audits and retrofits. We also set up E4, a subsidiary designed to retrofit older homes throughout the county and region. This way, we can train, employ, and build wealth for workers. In addition, households save energy costs, improve the comfort of their homes, and reduce their carbon footprint. 
As in all of Isles’ work, we strive to bring strong benefits at a low cost to those that need it most – including the environment. I’d love to hear your feedback on our work and our new website. 
In Community,


IYI Students Perform at Urban Word NYC!

On December 20, the Isles Job Developer, in partnership JurzeeCat Entertainment, took 8 students from Isles YouthBuild Institute to perform in Harlem at Urban Word NYC’s UPTOWN OPEN.

Uptown Open is a monthly open mic series for teens. These events are run by youth for youth, with youth DJ’s, youth hosts, and a monthly featured poet. Our students performed all original material and was well received by the artists, staff, and participants. See more phtotos on our facebook page!


Isles’ Marty Johnson Receives Community Leader of the Year Award

Four business leaders, including Isles’ President Marty Johnson, were recently  recognized for their contributions to the Princeton area business world by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. The honorees accepted their Business Leadership Awards at a dinner attended by more than 230 business leaders, local officials and friends held at the Tournament Players Club Jasna Polana on November 28, 2012.

The newest award, Community Leader of the Year, is reserved for the non profit community and past honorees include Nancy Kieling of the Princeton Area Community Foundation, Leslie Burger of the Princeton Public Library and Judith and William Scheide.

“We feel lucky to have spent 32 years at Isles exploring ways to bring meaningful change alongside communities that we respect and love,” said this year’s Community Leader of the Year Marty Johnson, Founder and President of Trenton-based Isles Inc. “But it takes more than an organization or even a village to raise great places. It takes a region, and business leaders increasingly know that Trenton’s future and the health of central Jersey are joined together. That makes us optimistic even when there are many reasons to be cynical. I am honored to be recognized this way by the Chamber.”

Congratulations, Marty!

December Update

In The Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has the good fortune to experience a realistic dream. Most of us don’t have dreams that are quite that vivid, so we have to think about our future while we are awake.
In the midst of the world’s craziness, I am reminded that life is really short, and we should plan now for how we want to be remembered.   As we move into a new year, we are excited by the possibilities and humbled (and a bit unsettled) by the deep challenges that confront us and the communities where we live and work. What I am so grateful for though, is to wake in the morning and know that our day’s work makes a real difference. Your support makes that possible. Thank you for being there and for considering a gift of self-reliance this holiday season.
We hope your dream and awake states bring meaning and happiness this holiday season!  

In Community, 



CEO Corner: Thinking Like a Mountain

Dear Friends,

Now  is  a good time to reflect on all of the staff, board, friends and supporters that make our self-sufficiency work possible.  This holiday season, we are particularly grateful.

Sometimes, that support comes from unexpected places. Recently, I was honored to receive the Community Leadership Award from the Princeton Chamber of Commerce.  It made me think about what  it means to be a good leader – in community, business or government. 

The world is changing so rapidly.  Tom Friedman called it flattening, others say its shrinking, more diverse, and clearly interdependent.  Climate change, telecom, global economics and the browning of America connect and impact us, whether we like it or not. 

My training was in cultural anthropology.  Anthropologists remind us that, for thousands of years, we’ve grown hard-wired to take care of our own – our tribe, our people.  So when that “protect our own” bias bumps up against the new world forces coming from the outside, some leaders dig in, or freeze.  Good leaders learn to look in both directions – inward and outward at the same time – an essential balancing act.  They learn to connect with those that don’t share their cultural context, or look like them.  They see opportunity in both chaos and order.

When I was 16, my family experienced a lot of turmoil. Our home was foreclosed on, and my mother was seriously ill.  The experience of losing our home and living on the edge impacted me, and my family, in a deep way.  We lived through chaos, but I didn’t want to be labeled or pitied.  I wanted to be treated as still capable, and with dignity. With a little help, we’ll be fine.

The football coaches from Princeton University came to my school, and suggested I apply.  With empty pockets, I arrived on Princeton’s campus.  As a white guy, I could cut my hair and look like I fit.  These experiences, and the anthropology training that came with it, helped me to become an adaptive leader and created my touch point for Isles – how did I want to be treated?  How should those struggling be treated?

So what does this mean for Isles?  We didn’t create programs that take care of poor people (even though those programs are often helpful). We developed  training and services that people could choose in support of their own self-reliance.  This is true even with young people who were locked up and dropped out.  And we build beautiful, energy efficient buildings that support self-reliant families.

Isles is asking tough questions about long term impacts, but this is not theory.  We practice our way to our audacious mission.  But we can only succeed with the community behind us.  Although most people have deep doubts – and  polls support this –  about whether anything can be done to help challenged communities, don’t fall into that trap.  Come visit and see for yourself.  It might help your self-reliance.

In community,

Marty Johnson

Follow Marty on twitter!

November Update

It is time to give thanks for the harvest, and we have much to be thankful for.  Our life and work in challenged communities reminds us each day of how lucky we are.
But we are most grateful for being able to do something about those challenges.
This season, when you receive an appeal for a donation from Isles, please think deeply about your connection to others less fortunate – and give generously.
Be a part of the change.
Happy Thanksgiving,